the bitter and little known history of Nora Rabinowitz’s shopping cart

by dm gillis

So, there was this guy I knew in Toronto. His name was Harold. He had this used clothing store but he called the merchandise vintage. It made him rich and I know why. He’d buy a dress from me for like $3 and I’d go in there the very next day and he’d have it on a rack for $25. Think that’s fair? And all these little chickies would come and pay full price because it was all vintage, get it?

Then there was this one time I brought in this gorgeous little Halston number. Very glam. But I’d gained a little weight, you know. When it was new off of the rack, it cost $500. When I bring it in to Harold, he doesn’t want to pay. He wants me to trade.

“Take some shoes,” he says. Like I needed shoes.

“No way,” I say. “Gimme $50.”

“There’s some nice bed jackets just come in,” he says.

“Bed jackets,” I says. “I look like Joan Crawford to you?”

“Take a nice synthetic alpaca sweater.”

“No way,” I says. “$50.”

So he gives me $35 and acts like I’m cutting him with a blunt knife. But wait, it gets worse.

I go in there the next day, and he’s selling the Halston to this drag queen – to a drag queen! Not that I got nothing against drag queens but I knew this little twerp. He wasn’t from the neighbourhood. Wasn’t even a performer. Just hung around in bars dressed like a woman. Now he was going to hang around in bars wearing my little Halston number. And he paid Harold $150. I could’ve puked!

But Harold got his in the end, and I’ll tell you how.

He takes some of the obscene profits from the store and buys himself a little vacation in the Bahamas. Gets a hotel on the beach in Nassau. He even buys some cheesy Hawaiian shirts and a Tilley hat for his big fat bald head. What a picture; I mean he looked like a porky Hunter S. Thompson.

On the first night there, though, he gets into it with a bartender. I mean, who gets into a fight in the Bahamas? But he calls this big bruiser of a guy out because he tried to charge Harold a little extra for a beer.  Didn’t ask to see a manager, just went all primitive. Out in the alley, the bartender clobbers him. Now Harold has a bleeding nose, he’s lying in a greasy puddle and he’s crying like a baby. The bartender heads back inside, and Harold goes back to his hotel room. And this is where the story gets a little sad, depending on your point of view.

Because it’s the tropics and he’s got a bleeding nose, Harold gets this weird tropical infection. Within 24 hours he’s gone completely septic. The Canadian Consulate arranges to fly him home pronto where he can get the specialised care he needs. Off he goes like an expedited parcel.

But when he gets to Toronto, guess what. All the specialists in Canada in that field of medicine are in Nassau at a convention. Can you beat that? So Harold lays in the ICU for 10 more hours, then dies.

That’s what you get when you sell my little Halston dress to a drag queen, huh!

So, what was an old homeless broad like me doing with a Halston dress? Things weren’t always like this, you know. I was somebody once. But being somebody’s a lot of hard work and I decided to let up on myself. I still enjoy the finer things, though. Take this shopping cart. Just look at it. Damn fine buggy, eh. Full sized Safeway job. Heavy gage chrome mesh, high profile hard rubber wheels. Made in Ontario, Canada. None of this made in China shit.

First it belonged to Cranky Natalie Chalmers who used to fish the bins in the west end. She walked outta the Robson Street Safeway with it one day, full of groceries she never paid for. Cranky Natalie was a binner goddess. A real hard worker. She could yank a cart full of bottles and cans and get ‘em to the depot sometimes twice a day. But it didn’t work out so well for her. They found her one morning in January, dead and half frozen in Stanley Park. She’d been living there round Beaver Lake for weeks while the weather was warm, the way it can be in Vancouver in the winter. But then a cold front came in and she’d been boozin’ it up. She froze up like a Swanson TV dinner. And while they were hoisting what was left of her into an ambulance, a guy named Abdul Musa hoisted the cart.

Abdul was a binner in the east end – he’d been visiting the park that day to hunt geese. He was one of those poor bastards they’d kicked outta Riverview Hospital in the nineties ‘cause it’s cheaper to let mental patients die on the street. Abdul heard voices and saw shit no one should ever have to hear or see. He’d yell back and swing his fists like a heavy weight at shit that just wasn’t there. Wouldn’t take his meds, neither. Said that they made him too susceptible to inelegant Venus Omega Rays, whatever the hell those are. Abdul only used the cart for a few months. Then he overdosed on what he thought was some heroin his girlfriend had given him. Who knows what it really was. They didn’t find his body for a week ‘cause he was camped out near the Terminal Avenue rail yard. But by then a guy by the name of Whitey Kurtz had taken the cart back west, into the downtown.

Whitey poked around with the cart for empties for a few months until he was hit by a drunken derivatives salesman in a Range Rover as he jaywalked across Georgia Street at 2.00 a.m. The salesman fled the scene but was arrested a couple of days later because it never occurred to him to open the hood and wipe Whitey’s blood off of the radiator. Dumb shit.

Then Guido Niño had the cart for about two years before he got stabbed with a Phillips screwdriver in a payday bar room brawl with a mechanic.

After that, this guy named Aboriginal Joe got the cart. You know, Romanian Aboriginal Joe. Not the other Aboriginal Joe. Romanian Aboriginal Joe was in a dumpster one day when it got dumped into the back of a Smithrite. He got compressed with all of the garbage of course, but that didn’t kill him. It was when they dumped it all out and this big caterpillar tractor comes along. Joe’s digging his way out of the garbage, and sticks his head out just in time for the tractor to come along and squash him like a bug. Anyway, Romanian Aboriginal Joe left the cart next to the bin he’d been digging through, and Bitsy Chang got it.

Bitsy eventually inherited about a trillion dollars from some venerable old Hong Kong relative and gave up dumpster diving. But she hung onto the cart for old time’s sake, until she had a massive stroke and kicked it. When they found her, they discovered she’d been hoarding for years. Her ten million dollar west side house was full of bottles, cans, car tires, iPhones, toilets, sinks, mattresses, mannequins, patio sets, old televisions, typewriters, five gallon buckets full of spare change, Christian tracts on the Apocalypse, Betamax machines, Happy Meal toys, ottomans and hundreds of unopened boxes of Tetley Tea.

They put the cart out to get picked up, and some kids used it to race down hill. That’s how it wound up in the FraserRiver. One of the kids fell out of the cart when it hit the river and was never found. Guess the little darlin’ is sleepin’ with the fishes.

The cart didn’t get rescued from the Fraser for a couple of years. Not until Norman Affleck saw it at low tide, and fished it out. He spent days cleaning it up. He even attached a couple of rear view mirrors and some of them bicycle streamers. Real festive, like. He was binning around Commercial Drive when a bunch of nogoodnicks took him for queer – bicycle streamers and all – like that makes a damn bit of difference, and beat him to death. That’s when Roscoe Rousseau snapped it up from behind the burrito shop where they’d waxed Norman.

Roscoe removed all of Norman Affleck’s finery and used the cart mostly to contain all of his worldly possessions. He kept a ghetto blaster in the drop down kiddie seat and played Johnny Cash and Conway Twitty full blast all over town. He passed it on to me when he found out that a detox bed had opened up for him at some Christian-run recovery joint up the valley. He was gonna get Jesus, clean up and go straight, he said. Until the night before he was supposed to leave for treatment, that is. That’s when he got iced by Davie Stone, who had known Guido Niño and thought it might’ve been Roscoe Rousseau who had stabbed him with a Phillips screwdriver in the payday bar room brawl. Davie settled Roscoe’s hash with a Louisville Slugger TPX Triton baseball bat in the parking lot behind the Army & Navy. Course it wasn’t Roscoe Rousseau who stabbed Guido Niño at all and Davie Stone’s doing a twenty year stretch at Ferndale for killing the wrong man.

And now the cart’s mine. Has been for three years. I figure, with a reputation like that, I don’t gotta worry about it getting boosted.

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